It wasn’t acceptable 30 years ago – it was however tolerated. It’s about time we stopped tolerating bad behaviour at work.

It's time

We are having an important national discussion about the standards we have for people who are assaulted, demeaned, harassed, bullied or psychologically harmed at work.  A significant part of this current conversation is the outright lack of consequences (or lack of proportional consequences) for people who don’t meet the basic standards of acceptable behaviour and who harm others.

Bad behaviour creates a workplace where people are distressed, tense and unhappy and feel unsupported.  Often bullying and harassment complaints are made, a disproportionate number of staff take sick leave regularly and good staff leave.

I’ve heard the statement ‘this was acceptable 30 years ago’ a few times recently as if to suggest this is the dawning of a new era.  This is very frustrating because the behaviour that is now rightly named and challenged wasn’t acceptable then any more than it is now.

  • The Anti-discrimination laws in NSW came into effect in 1977 – 44 years ago.
  • By 1970 all states in Australia had safe workplace laws – 51 years ago.

In the past, workplace cultures and ‘tradition’ have often overridden the will to take the laws and policy seriously. The necessary proportionate action against people who disregard the requirements to behave in specific safe, respectful and tolerant ways at work has not been taken.  Closed cultures (hard to get into) and homogenous groups (too many people with the same ethos/values or backgrounds) are most likely to put protection of the group above supporting others (especially ‘outsiders’) who need help and support.  This is especially true if what they are asking for in terms of support or action threatens the group.

We all get it – the culture has to change.  It has to change in ways that mean people are willing to take on those in powerful positions, who come from positions of privilege and entitlement and who have in a very real sense acted above the reach of these workplace requirements.  Responses can validly be administrative, civil or criminal as needed.

I’m very glad to see the strong call to stop tolerating unacceptable and illegal behaviour in all workplaces – it’s about time.  At the very least, let’s hold ourselves and others to the standards that are set out as part of workplace law and policy.  In doing so, let’s support the enthusiastic and diligent people who want to contribute within good workplace cultures, have great team relationships and who really just want to get the job done.

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